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Internet rallies behind man allegedly detained for giving away money

After handing out cash to strangers, Richard Wright is allegedly being held against his will. 


Fran Berkman

Internet Culture

A Canadian man, apparently detained in a mental hospital after handing out cash to strangers, has accumulated thousands of Internet supporters after his daughter’s Facebook plea was shared more than 16,000 times.

The way his online supporters tell it, Richard Wright has been held against his will since Thursday at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island, where he is said to be undergoing a mental health assessment. Wright has been identified as the “mystery man” who was reportedly handing out money to strangers and telling them to “pay it forward” and “thank god” last week.

“He was stripped of all his belongings [and] locked in a small concrete room with a tiny window and a camera inside,” Chelsey Wright, Richard Wright’s daughter, wrote in a Facebook post. “He was left there for eight hours with only two pieces of white bread to eat, and he was forced against his will to swallow two small white pills. The people there would not tell him what medication he was taking.”

More than 16,000 Facebook users have shared the post and photo of Wright, in which Chelsey Wright asks others to support her father.

In addition, more than 3,400 Facebook users have joined the group “#OpFreeRichardWright.” In the group’s description, the user who initiated the effort claims affiliation with the hacktivist group Anonymous.

“[Wright] is in a state of disbelief as he is not allowed to leave the hospital, he is not crazy,” reads the Facebook group’s description. “I personally have spoke with him on the phone and I can state that he is very bright and articulate when speaking!”

Wright, on his own Facebook page, shared the story about the “mystery” money giver—presumably himself—on his Facebook page on March 19.

One day after this post, Wright was reportedly stopped by police while driving his car. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) had previously “received a call for a wellness check” on Wright, according to Canada’s Metro News.

“The officers concluded that the gentleman should go to the hospital for further assessment by a medical health person,” RCMP Sgt. Leanne Butler told Metro News.

Wright is apparently being held under Prince Edward Island’s Mental Health Act, which states that a person can be legally detained if “the patient’s condition may present a danger to the patient or others.”

It appears Wright is still being detained as of Tuesday afternoon. Representatives from the hospital’s operator, Health PEI, did not respond directly to our inquiry but forwarded us a prepared statement from Pam Trainor, the executive director of acute care, mental health and addictions, which reads as follows:

We appreciate the seriousness of this situation and the impact on our patient and their family. As a health care system and as health care providers, we are very much aware of the public interest in this story; however, due to patient confidentiality and privacy, we cannot provide specifics related the patient, why they are under our care or what kind of care they are receiving.

It is important for the public to understand that patients are admitted to our hospitals, programs and/or health care services because they can benefit from the care that we provide. A patient is always admitted at the clinical recommendation of a physician who has met with and assessed the patient to determine the most appropriate medical care to help that patient. In the case of mental health patients who may be admitted involuntarily (as they were assessed by physician(s) to be of harm to themselves or others), there is a process, guided by the PEI Mental Health Act, to contest admission that the patient has a right to pursue.

Photo via #OpFreeRichardWright/Facebook

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